Sun, sea, sand and palm trees, boys with surfboards and girls in hot pants with bare midriffs, all suntanned and wearing sunglasses – welcome to California! This is the California that you know from movies.

But the reality is rather different. I’m in Goleta, a city in Santa Barbara, and I’m huddled by the heater. It’s 8°C (46°F) outside and it’s been pouring with rain for days. The street turned into a river several hours ago, while around the corner the fire department is currently sawing up a 40 meter tree that fell across the junction in the night. Albert Hammond’s song ‘It never rains in Southern California’ is playing on the radio.

“Seems it never rains in southern California
Seems I’ve often heard that kind of talk before
It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya?
It pours, man, it pours”

How apt! You have to laugh. And be grateful. But unlike native Californians I am less than thrilled that California is seeing its first proper rain again in five years. And even less so that it is seeing its heaviest rainfall in more than 60 years. But let’s go back to the start.

Studying at the beach!

My name is Marco Herbst and I am a student from the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW) at MANN+HUMMEL. My International Business major gives students the opportunity to spend one semester at a university abroad – I myself opted to spend the period from January to April at the University of California, Santa Barbara. This city lies one hour west of Los Angeles, right on the famous Highway 101, surrounded by mountains and the sea. I am getting the chance to study where others go on vacation. What could be better? The campus, attended by 20,000 students, has its own beach and is considered one of the most beautiful in North America. And this was to be my new home for the next few months. You can imagine that I had high expectations when I arrived in Santa Barbara in early January after a brief stop in Los Angeles and seeing in the new year in Las Vegas.

But I was met by weeks of heavy rain, which the area just wasn’t ready for after years of drought. After just the first few days, there were many places where the ground simply couldn’t absorb any more water and, to make it worse, many of the streets hadn’t even been fitted with drainage manholes. In Oroville near San Francisco, 180,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes when the largest dam in America started to break under the weight of all the water.

Fortunately the situation improved towards the end of February and I have since been able to enjoy California at its most beautiful. I finally got to try out the various surfing locations along the coast, drive my convertible down Highway 101 to Santa Monica and Malibu, and just wander to the beach in my lunch hour. The American lecture plan meant that I also had time for weekend trips to San Francisco, San Diego and some of California’s many other sights.

In many ways I found that life as an American student was much more relaxed than at German universities. Instead of the only requirement during the semester being attendance at lectures and then, at the end, cramming to pass many of the tests, in America, there is much more flexibility in how learning is organised. From the beginning, students’ participation and oral contributions count towards their grades; there is often homework too, which they then have to hand in to the lecturer the next week. Examinations are generally spread throughout the semester and often take the form of small projects, at the end of which you have to write a paper several pages long or give a presentation. This requires much more in-depth research and understanding of the topics, which in my opinion makes this a much more sustainable method of learning.

Between my studies and my free time, I also had the opportunity to pay multiple visits to our latest acquisition, the former TriSep Corporation, which is now part of MICRODYN NADIR. I received a very warm welcome each time I visited and was impressed by the friendly working environment. The managing director, Peter Knappe, gave me exciting insight into the world of nanofiltration and ultrafiltration on a personal guided tour of the plant. I am very grateful for this.

I am now back in the office in Ludwigsburg, it’s the middle of May and … it’s raining. This year has certainly been an interesting one so far. Lots of people have asked me whether I’ve got used to living in Germany again. “Of course!” I say – it’s easier than you would expect. Then just ten minutes later I’m having to fish my returnable cans out of the bin again so I can get my German ‘Pfand’ refund.